While searching around, I kept hearing that fusion was a good choice, but how best to covert the energy to electricity was an issue.
However, during my research, I came across this:
Photon-intermediate direct energy conversion (PIDEC) is somewhat similar to a concept of fluorescent light - as in the CFL, in the nuclear reactor the original type of energy generated is not useful to humans. CFL uses a fluorescent coating on the inside of the light bulb to convert that energy into visible spectrum of the light. PIDEC uses fluorescer (in the form of gas) surrounding nuclear fuel acting as photon producer - fluorescer gets excited by neutron emissions and in turn emits narrow band ultraviolet light. That light is then relatively easily converted into electricity by special photo-voltaic converter.
Because the photons emitted by fluorescer are narrow band, the conversion efficiency is much higher than efficiency of common solar cells. The overall efficiency of PIDEC is expected to be around 40%. The remaining residual heat is still high enough to use it in traditional thermalized way via Carnot Cycle e.g. steam turbine. A combined efficiency of such conversion system (PIDEC + traditional) could reach as much as 70%. In comparison, due to limitations of using solid nuclear fuel and water as coolant, current generation of nuclear plants average only about 35% conversion efficiency.
Now as explained here, PIDAC was conceived for use in high temperature fusion reactors.
During my research into this concept I came across this study: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/014919709090003N
A two-step photon-intermediate technique for the production of electricity, chemicals or lasers in nuclear energy conversion
In addition to electric power, photolysis makes other product forms possible. These products include useful feedstock, or combustion chemicals, such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and excited molecular and atomic states, used for laser amplifiers or oscillators.
Interesting...I mention this as it reminds me of how Mark Simmons describes how Gundams and Zakus generate both power, propulsion, and even their beam weaponry: http://www.ultimatemark.com/gundam/power.html
Since electrical generation, propulsion, and cooling all involve extracting thermal energy from the reactor and transferring it to other parts of the mobile suit's body, why not use the same mechanism for all three? The author imagines a network of thermal energy conduits running throughout the mobile suit's body, transferring reactor heat via high-pressure helium gas (8). This provides a handy explanation for the cables and tubes that decorate the exteriors of our favorite mobile suits (9).
The classic MS-06 Zaku II. In the author's opinion, its trademark power cables are most likely used to transfer thermal energy for propulsion, electrical generation, and cooling purposes. This theory is, however, at odds with the official explanation (10).
Here are his footnotes fyi:
(8) Entertainment Bible 1: One Year War Picture Encyclopedia identifies helium as the coolant used in the MS-06 Zaku II. Since this is also a suitable medium for transferring reactor heat to generator turbines, and its relatively low molecular weight makes it an efficient propellant for thermonuclear rocket engines, it seems like a good candidate for all three applications. Plus, this would explain the significance of the mysterious "helium control cores" attached to the Gundam's skirt armor!
(9) For example, the Master Grade GM Custom kit manual explains that the cables that run down the back of the mobile suit's legs supply energy to its leg thrusters.
(10) The official explanation for the Zaku II's cables is that they transmit hydraulic power to actuators in the mobile suit's joints. This always struck me as absurd, for why would the Zaku need to transmit hydraulic power from its belly to its backback, or from its muzzle to the back of its head? Likewise, early mobile suits like the Zaku II and the Gundam are usually said to use traditional chemical rocket engines, but this seems to defeat the purpose of having a thermonuclear reactor in the first place.
Now while Mark's explanation makes sense, it seems to me that PIDAC fulfils a very similar design.
For example a similar form of propulsion to Mobile Suits using PIDEC would be based on the concept: "Nuclear Lightbulb" concept
As someone else put it: https://space.stackexchange.com/a/27372
The idea is that you operate a fission reactor in a gas (really plasma) phase inside a transparent pressure vessel. The fissionables might be mixed with a fluorescing compound. If you run the reactor hot enough, radiation (which scales with the fourth power of temperature) becomes the dominant mode of energy transfer, primarily in the form of UV light. You pass your reaction mass - likely hydrogen doped with something to improve its UV absorption - over the outside of the reactor vessel. It's heated by the UV, conceptually to much higher temperatures than possible with solid core NTRs.
The concept hinges on the reactor vessel being so perfectly transparent to UV radiation that you can pass gigawatts of UV light through it without it absorbing them and therefore heating and melting. Additionally you need to run a plasma-phase fission reaction inside it (good luck with your neutron economy) and somehow protect it from that ferociously hot and corrosive material.
I am pretty sure he isn't right about the reaction mass needing to be passed over the outside of the vessel. It's all internal. At least it hasn't come up in the official scientific documentation. He also mentions heat would be a problem, but again thermal conversion is comparable with PIDEC. Not to mention there seems to be a way around the radiation damage issue
Back to Mark's article
However, this doesn't account for all of the cables. Mobile suits also need to transmit beam energy, in the form of Minovsky particles, to their weapons. The Gundam's beam rifle and beam saber both contain energy capacitors, which store the high-energy Minovsky particles used to form their devastating beams. In the case of the beam rifle, electrical power from the mobile suit's generators is used to convert the stored Minovsky particles into massive, fast-moving mega particles prior to firing.
Interesting isn't it. Especially since PIDEC also seems to be very useful for the making of Nuclear-Pumped lasers under a similar principle. (See p.107 in the google book link for reference)
I do think that if we ever make fusion powered mecha, this would be the best option, especially with recent breakthroughs in photovoltaics: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14962
Is this energy conversion scheme plausible?